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In the Crossfire

Getting worked up about Bush's fitness regime

(CNN) -- The commander in chief is also in the running as the nation's fitness leader. President Bush is urging people to hit the trail for better health. Is he setting a good example with an exercise regimen or interfering with the American right to be slothful?

David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, and former Mr. Universe and Houston, Texas, fitness czar Lee Labrada step into the "Crossfire" with hosts James Carville and Tucker Carlson to debate the president's physical fitness mission.

CARVILLE: [President Bush] told Runner's World magazine that he's serious about exercise and everyone should be, too. No excuses. ... We [have gotten] into a big disagreement about whether the president, an avid jogger who can do three miles in 20 minutes, is pushing the rest of us too hard. ...

CARLSON: ... I want to put on the screen the actual quote that James has alluded to from the president of the United States, one I've spent my life supporting and defending. He says: "No excuses. If the president of the United States can make the time, anyone can."

Now, this -- I'm not attacking exercise, I think it's marvelous. I'm as pro-exercise as anybody in the world, but this gets to what bothers me. There's an elitism here. You never see poor people jogging. Why? Because they don't have time.

So the president of the United States -- if I can do it, you -- you know, there's no excuse. This is the most important thing in your day. But in fact, a lot of people have more important things, like working a second job or taking care of their kids. Isn't there an elitism in this?

LABRADA: I don't think the president is being elitist at all. In fact, I think he's leading from the front, if anything. He's setting a proper example for the rest of us. And that is that you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.

CARVILLE: Let me ask you something. The former first lady, Mrs. Barbara Bush, encouraged people to read. Now more rich people read than poor people. So is it elitism for the first lady of the United States saying that people ought to read and encourage literacy?

CARLSON: That's a dumb point!

CARVILLE: No, it's not. It's not any more dumb than your point.

BOAZ: I think the Bushes ought to get their advice straight. We can't do everything. We can't read; we can't exercise; we can't do all the things they would like us to do. And that's something people have to think about.

The president says, if I can do it, anybody can. I'm guessing that after eight hours at work, the president doesn't have to go pick up the laundry, water the lawn, drive the kids to soccer. Of course, the president has time that the rest of us don't have.

But the important thing is [that] it's great for the president to set a good example. It's great for him to do the right thing. But we don't need a national nanny telling us all, "Don't drink, don't smoke, exercise more, recycle." We don't need that from the federal government.

CARLSON: And I think that's an excellent point, Lee Labrada. I mean, do we really need to be scolded by our politicians? Holy smokes, we're at war. A lot of things to worry about in this world. Do we really need nannies standing over us, telling us how to spend our free time?

LABRADA: Well, I really don't think it's about a politician scolding the rest of us. What I think it's about is setting an example and putting out a very important message that we have to take care of our health if we are to improve our general level of fitness. And it's right there in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States that part of the role of government is to promote the general welfare. This falls under promoting the general welfare.

CARLSON: But wait a second. The guys who wrote the Constitution, the founders, were overweight; they all had gout. They drank too much. Not one of these guys had ever been on a Stairmaster.

They led vibrant, vigorous lives and created the most important political document in human history. It sort of cuts against the argument you have to be fit to be smart, doesn't it?

LABRADA: But wasn't it [Benjamin] Franklin who said that an apple a day keeps a doctor away? You know, I think that there were people that were aware of ...

CARLSON: Touche!

LABRADA: ... the need for good health back then. But the bottom line is that we know better nowadays, and it's important to get the message out to people. It's not about elitism. It's actually about egalitarianism. It's about setting an example that others can follow and having equal access for all.

BOAZ: ... Hundreds of millions of dollars [for the government to encourage exercise]? We don't need that.

CARVILLE: I'll tell you what -- I rather -- I'll tell you what. It makes eminent more sense for the federal government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars encouraging people to exercise than it does to give money to grow tobacco. I mean, if you want to be really ridiculous here. ...

BOAZ: I agree. They should stop that, too.

CARLSON: Why don't we stop both?

CARVILLE: But again what is the problem with the federal government encouraging people to embrace a healthy lifestyle?

BOAZ: The problem is that these founders that we were talking about a minute ago set up a government of limited powers. And the most important thing the government is supposed to do is national security.

And at the very moment that the terrorists were flying airplanes into the World Trade Center, this president was sitting in a classroom in Florida surrounded by little kids reading to them. That is the job of their parents and their teachers. The president's job is to protect us from foreign assault, and if he focused on that, instead of telling us to jog and reading to our kids, then maybe we'd have a more secure nation.

LABRADA: I think it's the president's role to lead by example, and that's exactly what he's doing. And something that is very important is for us to realize that this is not a mandated program. This is a voluntary program.




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